Stuart Barnes talks about victories for three of the four home nations, and the upcoming World Cup hosting vote on Wednesday…
1. The win is the main thing. How many times did we hear this comment wrapped up in different phrases after one of the dullest matches to have taken place at Twickenham in recent years? But England were always going to beat a team who have forgotten how to beat tier one nations.
In the Rugby Championship the Pumas’ best effort was a seventeen-point margin of defeat – away to New Zealand and home to the Wallabies. England beat them by 13.
England vs Australia
November 18, 2017, 2:00pm
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Last season the margin of defeat at Twickenham was 14. Fair to say that first game of the campaign or not, this did not constitute anything like progress for Eddie Jones’s team. The game was played with atmosphere on the mute button and I can’t blame the fans.
Highlights of England's opening Autumn International clash against Argentina
There was very little to shout about. But, being the purveyor of all things positive, here are the few good things to come out of the game. Sam Underhill tackled tremendously well, although – bar giving a penalty away that mildly irritated his manager – he didn’t do much else.
Alex Lozowski’s break was sharp enough for a rare ‘Swing Low’ to make itself heard. Nathan Hughes was decent, Mako Vunipola was superb in the tight in both attack and defence… oh and there was George Ford’s pass. A thing of beauty.
2. You’ll have noticed I didn’t mention defence even though it was pretty solid. I am taking account of an Argentina team that played with a profound lack of pace. Let us judge the defence at 5pm next Saturday.
Eddie Jones gives his reaction to England's tough clash with Argentina
England will need more tempo in attack against a revived Australian team. On current form the Wallabies are favourites. That doesn’t mean they will win but it is where the two teams currently are.
Remember, England’s last high-pressure game in this hemisphere was a loss to Ireland. There appears to be a midterm lack of momentum within the four-year cycle.
3. Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje are not the answer to everything but they’ll inject some pace and dynamism into a team too content to opt for the easy options; the quick tap instead of the slow kick to touch, the double miss pass in their own 22 rather than the inevitable and often average box kick.
This duo’s state of mind will be as important to England as anything physical and technical.
4. What to do about the midfield? Henry Slade failed to find his outside-centre club form at inside-centre for country. In that sentence is a clue.
People expecting small miracles forgot his inclusion came off the back of him playing a different game in a different position. It looked messy. He didn’t get into the game for over half an hour and when he did he was bursting to make his mark.
Passes went to touch instead of hand. I still think his pass for Semasa Rokoduguni was as forward as every Argentina player throwing his arms immediately into the air believed. It appeared to go forward from his hand, to my eye anyway.
Sir Clive Woodward selects who he thinks should start for England against Australia
The TMO didn’t think there was clear evidence of a forward pass. Another reminder that, technology or not, the final decision is a subjective non-fact… I digress. Slade. His season form merits a go at 13, ahead of Joseph who isn’t in any great shakes himself. But that would be perceived as possibly a risk too far against the Wallabies.
I am guessing at Ford, Farrell and Joseph with Slade possibly out of the squad and Lozowski retaining his bench position. I hope I am wrong because Slade has earned an opportunity to show what he can do in his best position.
5. Australia are on something of a roll. Eddie wants them to bring their best game to Twickenham. Be careful for what you wish.
Unlucky 13 for Wales, three wins and a draw for Michael Cheika and his men on the bounce – including the All Black scalp. There wasn’t a lot between them and Wales but there was enough. Between the ears – Wales don’t seem to have a clue how to beat them.
The Australians expect to beat them, Wales find a way to lose it. Self-belief counts for a lot. Wales don’t have it against the Big Three from the south. It’s not how well they play or otherwise, its that final look on the scoreboard.
The win, that’s the main thing. England, struggling for rhythm will expect to beat Australia. Wales? You get the feeling they have nothing more than hope.
Highlights of Ireland's opening Guinness Series clash against South Africa
6. Ireland. Now Ireland have been getting good at winning against South Africa and Australia under Joe Schmidt. And let’s not forget the All Blacks and England. Last season’s four-point victory against England flattered the Grand Slam-seeking English team.
Ireland vs Fiji
November 18, 2017, 5:15pm
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On Saturday Schmidt said 38-3 was a scoreline which flattered Ireland. He has a point. Ireland were solid tactically and impressive physically but few saw that 35-point margin coming. South Africa will see the game as one to be bracketed along with the 57-0 defeat in New Zealand this season.
Form and selection is too inconsistent to see the Springboks as anything but a desperate disappointment rather than a ‘work in progress’. However poor the South Africans, this was an encouraging start for Ireland and an unforgettable one for Jacob Stockdale.
Joe Schmidt gives his reaction to Ireland's win over South Africa in Dublin
7. Scotland scored a bucket load of points and conceded almost as many. Gregor Townsend will not be happy with Scotland’s overall level of performance.
Yes, our friends north of the border need to sort out some defensive deficiencies, but so too Samoa. If Slade gets the call at 13 for the England-Samoa game he could have himself some fun playing on the edge.
8. No great surprises in Paris on Saturday night. There’s not much more to be said until I find the match online – all I will say is that the scoreline didn’t shock. France are not a good team.
The best thing about Saturday from England’s perspective is that the main threats in their pool are supposedly France and Argentina. Both teams have a lot more in the way of problems than England.
9. I read in my Sunday paper of choice that Theresa May has let it be known that her preference for the 2023 World Cup is Ireland.
Going by her current ‘form’ that is probably the end of any slim Irish hopes. Still, they gave South Africa, World Rugby’s suggested pick, a good old beating. Revenge before the final act of selection on Wednesday.
10. France are even less impressed with the transparent verdict of World Rugby and their team of auditors. Anything other than a rubber stamping now and it will seem like shenanigans behind the scenes.
It won’t be a full-on FIFA fiasco but Wednesday could yet be an awkward evening for the governing body of the game.